5 things to know: Thursday

5 things to know: Thursday

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Importance of proactive PR plan in case of crisis in business

LUBBOCK, Texas - When a business gets hit by a crisis, like Reagor-Dykes bankruptcy, the BP oil spill, Blue Bell's listeria outbreak, a plan of attack needs to be put in place to put the best spin on the situation, it's called crisis communications. It's a chance for businesses to save the brand, they built.

"Every business should anticipate they are going to be involved in a crisis of some sort," Jo Langston, a Texas Tech PR Professor, said.

According to Langston, there are seven crucial aspects to attack a crisis. First, have a plan. Then establish a spokesperson, be open, honest and trustworthy and talk to your employees first.

"They are an immense tool. They are ambassadors for your brand they're ambassadors for what is going on inside the business," Langston said. "You know when there's a crisis involving a business and you see your neighbor Sue that you know works for that company, you're going to go talk to Sue and you're going to believe what Sue says." 

Next, talk to customers and vendors, update the media and get information out on social media.

"The business that has a plan will be out on social media platforms, telling what's going on, this is the update how you can get whatever you need done. So social media has changed the way we respond to crisis. And if you're not on it, social media will be on it for you," she added.

Companies need to get the word out fast, before the public shapes the narrative.

"If you don't engage that have your interest at heart, that are sharing your stakeholders, if you don't have that, somebody else will make up the story; we're all reporters now," Langston said. "We can all pick up our phone and go to our Twitter feed, go to Facebook, go to Instagram, go to whatever and we can make up a story."

According to Langston, Blue Bell's listeria outbreak is the perfect example of how to handle a crisis.

"They were upfront, this is what's going on, this is what we're doing to fix the problem, we're going to go in and clean and re-clean and retrain and do all these things, this is the anticipated date you're going to have Blue Bell back in your stores and everyone came back to Blue Bell, so they did it perfectly."

The shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007, an example of an institution, that wasn't prepared for a crisis. It took two hours to send out information and directions in a situation when lives were in danger.

"The company, the institution, needs to have a way for the questions to be answered. Cause if they're not answered, again they're going to create their own story. They're going to go and tell everybody, I can't get an answer to my question, and we have a tendency to tell twelve people when something goes bad, as opposed to three people when something goes good," Langston said.

How companies react, is an indicator for what's to happen the next time a crisis hits.

"They need to have answers, they need to be able to speak it, talk the talk, walk the walk, and they need to be that person of authority."

When brands, like BP, cause so much damage, the best plan is to re-brand and re-visit it's mission.


Lubbock superintendent sets goals and expectations for new school year

LUBBOCK, Texas - Lubbock ISD teachers were back in the classrooms this week, prepping for next Wednesday, that's when their students report to class. There was no extended summer break for district administrators. Superintendent Kathy Rollo has been setting goals and expectations for the coming school year. She has three pillars supporting her work philosophy.

"One is valuing data, and that is both quantitative data making sure that our students are on track as far as assessments go, but more importantly qualitative data we really want to listen to our kids and see what their needs are," said Dr. Rollo. "I'm actually going to campuses and parking in the teachers lounge during the lunch periods and just listening to what their needs are and we have been able to make some adjustments to some programming things based on that feedback." 

Rollo said the third pillar is investing in the school districts principals, and students. The school district is expanding its career technology education programs for students who want to go to work right out high school instead of following the higher education track.

"We are adding plumbing, last year we added floral design," said Rollo. "I know plumbing doesn't sound as exciting in some ways, but there are definitely careers and jobs waiting for kids who graduate with certifications in that."

The school district will be implementing a systemic phonics program on the elementary level and will continue its three year roll out plan which enhances learning opportunities with new tech tools in the classroom. Along with new programs and technology the school district will be focusing on a new emergency response system to bolster safety measures. 

"So we started meeting with people in the spring and found out that we really do need to have some better common stronger language around emergency procedures," said Rollo. "So we have done a lot of training around that this summer." 

As a first time superintendent, Dr Rollo said she knows the challenges and all her experience as a teacher and administrator will keep those pillars upright.


Texas school districts to receive letter grades

Texas schools will soon be graded just like the students inside the classrooms.

Schools districts will receive scores on an A through F grading system. 

The system is largely based on student performance from achievement tests, like the STARR Test, and their improvement from the year before. 

Other grading aspects include graduation preparation and student performance from subgroups and special education.

Lubbock ISD Superintendent Kathy Rollo said she loves the way the districts grades schools performance on student development, however, it's not perfect.

"At the elementary level it is solely based on one test and so we know that one test given on one day is not always the greatest measure of a child's performance, there's always so much more to education than that but I do believe there's nothing on that test that we don't want our kids to know," Rollo said.

Grades are expected to be released next Wednesday.


Man at compound accused of training kids for school attacks

By MORGAN LEE and MARY HUDETZ
Associated Press

TAOS, N.M. (AP) - A father arrested at a ramshackle New Mexico compound where 11 hungry children were found living in filth was training youngsters to commit school shootings, prosecutors said in court documents obtained Wednesday.

The allegations against Siraj Ibn Wahhaj came to light as authorities awaited word on whether human remains discovered at the site were those of his missing son, who is severely disabled and went missing in December in Jonesboro, Georgia, near Atlanta.

The documents say Wahhaj was conducting weapons training with assault rifles at the compound on the outskirts of Amalia, a tiny town near the Colorado border marked by scattered homes and sagebrush.

"He poses a great danger to the children found on the property as well as a threat to the community as a whole due to the presence of firearms and his intent to use these firearms in a violent and illegal manner," Prosecutor Timothy Hasson wrote in the court documents Wednesday.

Authorities raided the compound Friday in an investigation that has yielded a series of startling revelations - including the discovery of the 11 children in rags and word that Wahhaj wanted to perform an exorcism on his son because he thought the boy was possessed by the devil.

Prosecutor Timothy Hasson filed the court documents while asking that Wahhaj be held without bail after he was arrested last week with four other adults at the compound facing child abuse charges.

Prosecutors did not bring up the school shooting accusation during initial court hearings Wednesday for the abuse suspects. A judge ordered them all held without bond pending further proceedings.

In the court documents, authorities said a foster parent of one of the children removed from the compound had told authorities the child had been trained to use an assault rifle in preparation for a school shooting.

Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe previously said adults at the compound were "considered extremist of the Muslim belief." He did not elaborate, saying it was part of the investigation.

Aleks Kostich of the Taos County Public Defender's Office questioned the accusation of a school shooting conspiracy, saying the claim was presented with little information beyond the explanation that it came from a foster parent.

Kostich believes prosecutors are not certain about the credibility of the foster parent, whom he has no way of reaching to verify the claim, he said.

The human remains were being analyzed by medical examiners to determine if they are those of Abdul-ghani Wahhaj, the missing boy.

Earlier this year, his grandfather, Imam Siraj Wahhaj, posted a plea on Facebook for help finding his grandson.

The elder Wahhaj heads the Masjid At-Taqwa in Brooklyn, a mosque that has attracted radical speakers over the years. He met Mahmud Abouhalima when he came to the site to raise money for Muslims in Afghanistan. Abouhalima later helped bomb the World Trade Center in 1993.

In a Georgia arrest warrant, authorities said 39-year-old Siraj Ibn Wahhaj had told his son's mother that he wanted to perform an exorcism on the child. He later said he was taking the child to a park and didn't return.

He is accused in Georgia of kidnapping the boy.

The arrest warrant issued there says the missing boy has a condition caused by lack of oxygen and blood flow around the time of birth. He cannot walk and requires constant attention, his mother told police.

For months, neighbors worried about the squalid compound built along the remote New Mexico plain, saying they took their concerns to authorities long before sheriff's officials raided the facility described as a small camping trailer in the ground.

The search at the compound came amid a two-month investigation that included the FBI. Hogrefe said federal agents surveilled the area a few weeks ago but did not find probable cause to search the property.

That changed when Georgia detectives forwarded a message to the sheriff that he said initially had been sent to a third party, saying: "We are starving and need food and water."

Authorities found what Hogrefe called "the saddest living conditions and poverty" he has seen in 30 years in law enforcement. He said Wahhaj was armed with multiple firearms, including an assault rifle. But he was taken into custody without incident.

The group arrived in Amalia in December, with enough money to buy groceries and construction supplies, according to Tyler Anderson, a 41-year-old auto mechanic who lives nearby.

He said he helped them install solar panels after they arrived but eventually stopped visiting.

Anderson said he met both of the men in the group, but never the women, who authorities have said are the mothers of the 11 children, ages 1 to 15.

"We just figured they were doing what we were doing, getting a piece of land and getting off the grid," Anderson said.

As the months passed, he said he stopped seeing the smaller children playing in the area and didn't hear guns being fired at a shooting range on the property.

Jason Badger, who owned the property where the compound was built, said he and his wife had pressed authorities to remove the group after becoming concerned about the children.

The group had built the compound on their acreage instead of a neighboring tract owned by Lucas Morton, one of the men arrested during the raid.

However, a judge dismissed an eviction notice filed by Badger against Morton in June, court records said. The records did not provide further details on the judge's decision.

After the raid, Anderson looked over the property for the first time in months.

"I was flabbergasted from what it had turned into from the last time I saw it," he said.


GOP congressman from New York charged with insider trading

By TOM HAYS
Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) - Republican U.S. Rep. Christopher Collins of New York was arrested Wednesday on charges he fed inside information he gleaned from sitting on the board of a biotechnology corporation to his son, helping family and friends dodge hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses when one of the company's drugs failed in a medical trial.

Collins, a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump who was among the first sitting members of Congress to endorse his candidacy for the White House, pleaded not guilty to an indictment unsealed at a court in Manhattan. The indictment charges Collins, his son and the father of the son's fiancee with conspiracy, securities fraud, wire fraud and making false statements to the FBI.

Speaking to reporters in Buffalo hours after his release on bail, Collins, 68, professed his innocence and said he would remain on the ballot for re-election this fall.

"I believe I acted properly and within the law at all times," he said. "I will mount a vigorous defense in court to clear my name. I look forward to being fully vindicated and exonerated."

Prosecutors said the charges stem from Collins' decision to share with his son insider information about Innate Immunotherapeutics Ltd., a biotechnology company headquartered in Sydney, Australia, with offices in Auckland, New Zealand. Collins was the company's largest shareholder, with nearly 17 percent of its shares, and sat on its board.

According to the indictment, Collins was attending the Congressional Picnic at the White House on June 22, 2017, when he received an email from the company's chief executive saying that a trial of a drug the company developed to treat multiple sclerosis was a clinical failure.

Collins responded to the email saying: "Wow. Makes no sense. How are these results even possible???" the indictment said.

It said he then called his son, Cameron Collins, and, after several missed calls, they spoke for more than six minutes.

The next morning, according to the indictment, Cameron Collins began selling his shares, unloading enough over a two-day period to avoid $570,900 in losses before a public announcement of the drug trial results. After the announcement, the company's stock price plunged 92 percent.

Prosecutors said the son passed the information to a third defendant, Stephen Zarsky. Their combined trades avoided more than $768,000 in losses, authorities said. They said Zarsky traded on it and tipped off at least three others.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman, a Republican, said Collins was supposed to keep the trial results secret.

"Instead, he decided to commit a crime," he said. "Representative Collins, who, by virtue of his office, helps write the laws of this country, acted as if the law did not apply to him."

Collins, a conservative first elected in 2012 to represent parts of western New York between Buffalo and Rochester, has vehemently denied wrongdoing. When the House Ethics Committee began investigating the stock trades a year ago, his spokeswoman called it a "partisan witch hunt."

All three defendants pleaded not guilty and were freed on $500,000 bail.

In his Buffalo news conference, Collins acknowledged being disappointed that Innate's drug trials didn't go well.

"We firmly believed we were on the verge of a medical breakthrough," he said.

But he said that even after learning of the setback, "I held on to my shares rather than sell them" as the law required.

He said the decision not to sell cost him millions of dollars.

"That's OK," he said. "That's the risk I took."

Collins has remained a vocal Trump supporter, most recently calling for an end to special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into possible campaign collusion and blaming Barack Obama's administration for failing to push back on Russia.

On Wednesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, said he was removing Collins from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, calling insider trading "a clear violation of the public trust."

In a written statement Wednesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the charges against Collins "show the rampant culture of corruption and self-enrichment among Republicans in Washington today."

Collins ran unopposed in the Republican primary and holds what's largely considered a safe Republican seat in a state that went to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016. He's being challenged in November by Democrat Nate McMurray.

McMurray said Collins has brought shame to the region, but he stopped short of saying he should resign.

"That's his decision to make. I'll leave it up to him, but I know what I would do if I was in his place," said McMurray, the town supervisor in the Buffalo suburb of Grand Island.

The advocacy group Public Citizen filed a request for an investigation of Collins' stock dealings with the Office of Congressional Ethics and the Securities and Exchange Commission in January 2017.

Tom Price, who was Trump's first secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, also came under scrutiny for his purchases of Innate stock while he was a Republican member of Congress from Georgia.

Democrats made an issue of Price's purchase at his Senate confirmation hearings in early 2017, after the Wall Street Journal reported that company officials had said Price was allowed to buy the stocks at a low price. Price, who bought about 400,000 shares of the stock, said he'd learned of the firm through Collins but said the price he received was available to any investor.

Price resigned as health secretary last September under criticism for taking pricey charter flights at taxpayers' expense.

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